ICI: poisoning for profit (Green Left)
SYDNEY — In an all-too-rare finding of blame, the giant chemical company ICI is facing a pay-out of hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to graziers and meat processors. ICI distributed the insecticide Helix, which was used on cotton crops of northern NSW and southern Queensland. Cotton waste fed to cattle during the 1990s drought led to their contamination.
Helix, or CFZ (chlorfluazuron), was voluntarily banned from use in the cotton industry in 1995.
On June 24, Justice Wilcox of the Federal Court found that ICI had failed in its duty of care to inform people of the insecticide in the cotton fodder. In 1994, 60,000 tonnes of meat was recalled and more than 4700 cattle were put into quarantine.
Around 2500 processors and producers were affected, with losses ranging from $20,000 to $26 million. Some claimants have died and others gone broke over the two years it took to sue ICI.
The court found that ICI had demonstrated “wilful blindness” in failing to carry out appropriate research on the fodder or appropriate field research into Helix.
Justice Wilcox stated, “A contributing factor to the failures was that, in its haste for profits, the private organisation cut research corners and inexcusably suppressed information that might have alerted the dozing public watchdog”.
Wilcox failed to mention government cutbacks and privatisation of quarantine and food inspection services.
Similar legal actions are under way against other pesticide companies over the use of the pesticide Endosulphan on lucerne, vegetables and cereals.
In Melbourne on June 25, Greenpeace protested outside a special ICI shareholders’ meeting. Greenpeace toxics campaigner Matt Ruchel entered the meeting with a secret tape-recording of a message calling on shareholders to “make their money talk to protect the environment”.
Greenpeace wants ICI to clean up its mess in Homebush Bay in Sydney and other sites around Australia, such as ground water contamination and hazardous waste stockpiles at ICI Botany.
On June 24 in Sydney, Greenpeace activists planted two-metre high warning signs in waters in front of ICI’s plant on Homebush Bay to highlight contamination by heavy metals and phthalates produced by ICI on the site.
Greenpeace is calling on ICI to commit funds to a multimillion dollar joint project between the NSW state government and the giant investment bank Bankers Trust to clean up Homebush Bay, one of the world’s most polluted waterways.